Can Chinese brands scale?

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Can Chinese brands scale is a question that seems to vex expert marketers. I have been reading an interesting book at the moment Tom Doctorow’s What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer based on his experience working with J Walter Thompson in China. There is a lot of really great stuff in his book that I have found invaluable. However, one thing struck me as odd. Doctorow under-estimates domestic businesses in their ability to make Chinese brands scale overseas.

Relative value and affordability has long helped Chinese brands scale in the developing world. Where marketing experts underestimate Chinese chances is in western markets.

Firstly a disclaimer. Not all Chinese brands are marketing orientated let alone competent professional brand builders. Many are sales  orientated or only competent in business to business marketing. This  is due to a historic relationship with a western brand.L1000816
Lenovo managed to go global through it’s acquisition of IBM’s PC business; which is now challenging HP and Dell in the PC market. But Lenovo has cloaked it’s Chinese nature with a name that only a branding consultant could truly love.
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Tsing Tao (said Ching Dow) beer makes no excuses and embraces its Chinese heritage from a ping pong ball breathing dragon in bars to posters welcoming the Chinese olympic team to their camp in Leeds.
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With brands like Tiger, Cobra, Sapparo and Kirin before it who says Tsing Tao couldn’t make a truly Chinese brand go global.

Images by Mojofuel via McCann Erickson Manchester.

I think that the biggest barriers to Chinese brands scale is one of culture and connectedness to the Chinese government rather than name. The Chinese government reputation in western markets ranges from complicated to toxic. The needle moving towards toxic as the government has moved more towards Han ethnic nationalism.

Secondly the corporate ‘wolf culture’ or ‘struggle culture’ of the likes of Huawei is also viewed with suspicion. This is why these businesses find it slower and more resource intensive to build brand over time. These brands struggle to translate their culture and brand essence into a western context. You have streamlines that work in Chinese; but feel awkward or surreal in English. Or photography that is decidedly eastern European in aesthetics.